Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua lead an exceptional year of British boxing

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Steve Bunce's top fights of 2018 (2:06)

Steve Bunce looks back at his pick of the top bouts in 2018, as some of the sport's biggest names faced off. (2:06)

Even by modern sport's extremes the British boxing year was exceptional, brutal, an endless mix of fairytales and horror stories with some quite unforgettable moments.

The only place to start though is the end of the year when Tyson Fury walked the lean and mean streets of Los Angeles, mixing with the dossers, homeless and helpless. He gave away the shoes from his feet the day before he met Deontay Wilder at the Staples Centre in the city's notorious downtown.

In January, Fury had been cleared to box by UKAD after an investigation into a doping charge; he had lost a total of ten stone and won twice in fun fights before Wilder, a fight that many boxing insiders simply believed would never happen. There had been some bold talk, predictions and even a few hopeful dates thrown about for a Wilder fight against Anthony Joshua, but that vanished when Fury agreed to fight the unbeaten American. It was a killer coup by Fury and his people.

Wilder dropped Fury with a shot to the back of the head in round nine and again in round twelve. Fury looked like he was out cold in the last round, but he regained his feet and his composure and boxed to what looked like a dream ending; the WBC belt was his. Although the official score was a draw, the unofficial result was a resounding victory for Fury, all the stances he had taken and the personal problems he had overcome.

Joshua fought twice in front of a total of 170,000 people, easily beating previously unbeaten Joseph Parker to add the WBO version to his bauble rack and then he won a brief slugfest against Alexander Povetkin. Joshua had a perfect year in many ways, still unbeaten, top sponsorship deals and his only mishap the lost opportunity to fight Wilder and the backlash from that collapsed scheme. Joshua wanted Wilder, never doubt that.

Retirements, rumbles and rematches

Tony Bellew beat David Haye again and then we all discovered that Haye had been put back together after a career of hurt by surgeons, hope, strips of metal, injections to ease the pain and some dubious quackery. Haye called an end to his career when Bellew dropped him heavily in round five. Then, six months later, it was Bellew's time to go down and retire.

Bellew had demanded a fight with Oleksandr Usyk for all four cruiserweight world title belts. They met in November in Manchester and Bellew fought like a dream for three rounds before the sickening end in round eight. Usyk just might be the best fighter in the world and his inevitable passage to heavyweight will be essential viewing.

The year also ended badly for George Groves when he lost his WBA super-middleweight title and was stopped in seven nasty rounds by Callum Smith in the glamorous final of the WBSS, which bizarrely took place in Saudi Arabia. Smith, one of four fighting Smith brothers from Liverpool, is now unbeaten in 25 fights and seems to have become invisible -- nobody is talking about fighting him.

Groves had beaten Chris Eubank Jr earlier in the year, delivering a textbook masterclass to make Eubank, who was the slight betting favourite, look one-paced and raw. The Groves win is a contender for performance of the year, his loss one of the shocks of the year.

Also at super-middleweight, James DeGale regained his IBF title, then relinquished to avoid a tricky mandatory defence. It was one of the year's strangest acts. In December Rocky Fielding defended his WBA title at the same weight in one of the year's unusual fights when he lost to Saul Canelo Alvarez in the sacred Madison Square Garden ring.

Fielding was one of over a dozen British boxers stopped, dropped, hurt and often cut in world title fight defeats. It was, away from the bling, the bright lights and the glory, a hard year for British boxers in important fights.

And then there was Carl Frampton and Josh Warrington and a fight for the ages. In May, Warrington beat Lee Selby in a real shock to win the IBF featherweight title at Elland Road. The Welshman was left bewildered and badly cut at the end of twelve rounds. A few months later Frampton fulfilled a lifetime ambition and fought at Windsor Park in Belfast. Frampton had an easy night, a win to set in place a fight with Warrington in December on neutral ground in Manchester.

It was barely 48 hours before Christmas Day when Warrington beat Frampton in, arguably, the British fight of the year. It was quite incredible to witness, a privilege to be ringside. Warrington kept his IBF title, Frampton, still only 31, went away to look at his future and nobody watching live or in the venue will ever forget what they did.

On the same night in London -- also on pay-per-view -- Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora met for the second time. The first fight was good, this was arguably better. Chisora was in front on two of the three scorecards going into the eleventh round when Whyte landed a perfect left hook and Chisora was down and out cold.

Whyte was in two other serious fights, all against world-ranked men; in March he knocked out Lucas Browne in a savage brawl, four months later he survived a sickening final-round knockdown to beat Parker on points. 'Del Boy' Chisora had salvaged his own career with a one-punch knockout of Carlos Takam in July. Chisora was very close to a stoppage loss that wild night.

Hughie Fury, estranged cousin of Tyson, lost a European heavyweight title fight in Bulgaria, but remains a serious contender and too often ignored. The seasoned heavies had their nights, but unbeaten pair Daniel Dubois and Nathan Gorman also steadily improved. Incidentally, Dubois is just 21, Gorman only 22 and they are the best two young heavyweight prospects in the world. Joe Joyce, now 33 and based in California, completes the unlikely trio of brilliant British heavyweight contenders.

Rising stars and contenders to remember

Incidentally, Caroline Dubois, the teenage sister of Daniel, won the European, the World and the Youth Olympics, arguably the finest haul by any British boxer in 2018. She will be 19 when the Tokyo Olympics start. "I will be old enough to win the gold," she promised me.

Meanwhile, British Olympians Nicola Adams and Savannah Marshall kept winning, but there was an ugly end to a fight for Natasha Jonas when she was stopped. Katie Taylor, who beat Jonas in 2012 at the London Olympics, defended her world title four times.

In British title fights there was the usual mix of grit, heartbreak, lunacy and the inevitable emergence of new stars in several weights. Lewis Ritson won at lightweight, Sam Bowen at super-featherweight, Liam Williams won a second British title and Teddy Cheeseman was controlled at light-middleweight. The fight for the vacant British welterweight title between Johnny Garton and Gary Corcoran was simply one of the very best. Garton won in the 11th, Corcoran had nothing left to offer on an emotional night.

The contenders, that swollen list of protected fighters, seem to be part of a truly endless line of men with unbeaten records, complied in far too many sanctioned mismatches. It's a pity the British Boxing Board of Control lacks the real power to prevent the bad fights. Anyway, Joshua Buatsi, Michael Conlan, Josh Kelly, Anthony Yarde, Ryan Garner, Archie Sharpe, Lewis Crocker and Anthony Fowler led the troops. Previously unbeaten fighters Zelfa Barrett, Lyon Woodstock, Paddy Barnes and Reece Belloti all lost for the first time. Bellotti then lost a split decision late in the year for the British featherweight title against Ryan Walsh.

In late December Charlie Edwards defied the odds to win the WBC flyweight title and on the same night, former unbeaten world champion Billy Joe Saunders returned for an easy win to end a bad year. Two wins, two men at opposite ends of a booming business having their hands raised to finish the year of British boxing excesses.